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Custom Art Music One Review

Custom Art Music One
 Reviewed October 2013

Details: Single BA model from Poland-based Custom Art, owned and operated by a long-time Head-Fi member piotrus-g
Base Price:  €189 (est. $260) from thecustomart.com
Specs: Driver: BA | Imp: 41Ω | Sens: 109 dB | Freq: 10-20k Hz | Cable: 4.2’ L-plug
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (5/5) – Cleaning tool, Otterbox 1000 crushproof storage/carrying case, and compact clamshell carrying case
Build Quality (5/5) – The Music One is a full-shell silicone custom monitor with excellent shell quality. A fixed cable is standard, but detachable cabling is available as an option. The fixed cable lacks external strain relief but the silicone of the shells does the same job better. The cord itself is among my all-time favorites – very soft and slightly rubberized, it is resistant to both microphonics and tangling. There are also far more customization options available for the Music One than my other silicone customs, and Custom Art even offers themed visual designs dubbed “State of Art” at an extra cost. My unit has blue shells, clear tips, and color-coded nozzles, and came with a matching blue carrying case
Isolation (5/5) – Excellent, falling just behind my Spiral Ear 3-way Reference, which has a musician’s fit with longer canals
Microphonics (5/5) – None – the soft, rubbery cable is completely silent
Comfort (5/5) – The flexible, low-profile silicone shells of the Music One can be hard to grip and take slightly longer to insert and remove compared to more rigid acrylic customs, but are extremely comfortable and maintain seal better with changes to ear canal shape, such as while chewing or talking. Built around a single balanced armature driver, the Music One has the lowest profile of all my custom monitors and its soft cables are made more unobtrusive by the lack of a strain relief and memory wire. All in all, it is the most comfortable of all my earphones, custom-fit or otherwise

Sound (9.2/10) – From the first listen it was clear that the Custom Art Music One, which utilizes a vented balanced armature driver, is one of the best earphones in its class. It pursues a very coherent, natural sound that impresses with its weight and smoothness. The low end extends well and offers up good impact. It is tighter than the boomier, more mid-bassy 1964EARS 1964-V3 but, as with the other silicone customs I’ve reviewed thus far, there is a certain difficult-to-describe characteristic to the bass that makes the earphones seem more impactful while taking away slightly from the detail and texture, which I attribute to the silicone. This allows the Music One to maintain good bass control while providing ample presence – more than with the dynamic-drover HiFiMan RE-400 and the Ultimate Ears 600, for example – but also means it can’t quite keep up with the low-end resolution of, for example, the pricier EarSonics SM64.

The mids of the Music One are smooth and clear, with good note thickness and again a very natural presentation. The midrange is definitely one of the strengths of the earphone but doesn’t present as overly forward, likely due to the impactful bass. The HiFiMan RE-400 and Ultimate Ears 600 both seem a touch more mid-centric than the Music One, for example. Clarity is excellent as well, falling just a hair behind higher-priced sets such as the EarSonics SM64 and 1964EARS V3.

The treble of the Custom Art is a little less prominent but still remains in good balance with the overall sound, reminding me of the way recent HiFiMan releases have been tuned. It is not the most crisp-sounding, but tends to be natural and smooth. The same is true of the presentation – the Music One has a spacious sound, especially compared to the majority of other single-BA earphones. It also impresses with good soundstage depth and the ability to portray intimacy properly when necessary, further making it a great all-rounder.

Select Comparisons

MEElectronics A161P ($100) 

The A161P is a single-armature earphone based on a Knowles ED transducer and tuned for a crisp and punchy sound. The A161P and Custom Art Music One are not exceedingly different in terms of balance, and on some tracks sound rather similar overall. With in-depth listening, however, it becomes clear that the Music One is a significantly more refined earphone.

While the A161P has good bass punch for a single-armature set, the Music One is more impactful and has a thicker, weightier note presentation. Its tone is warmer overall and it makes the A161P sound thin in comparison. The A161P tends to be brighter and, next to the rather smooth Music One, sounds somewhat harsh and grainy. The A161P is also more forward while the Music One offers a wider presentation with better depth and imaging.

VSonic GR07 ($179) 

One of the many reasons the dynamic-driver VSonic GR07 has maintained its popularity over the past few years is that it can go toe to toe with many higher-priced sets. Pitted against the Custom Art Music One, it loses out in midrange and treble quality but partly makes up for it with great bass. The main differences lie in the midrange, where the Music One offers better presence and clarity. The GR07, in comparison, sounds slightly mid-recessed. This, in turn, accentuates the bass of the VSonics, which appears a little more impactful but also quicker compared to the Music One. The Custom Art unit offers smoother treble while the more energetic GR07 is susceptible to sibilance. The presentation of the GR07 tends to have good width and little else, while the Music One is more well-rounded and offers depth and imaging to match.

Etymotic Research ER4S ($249) 

Long-time industry leader and innovator Etymotic Research first released the ER4 in 1991, and its ER4S tuning remains one of my all-time favorite universal-fit earphones. The Custom Art Music One and ER4S each have advantages over the other and it’s difficult to pick a clear winner here. The Music One definitely sounds fuller and warmer overall, thanks in part to its weightier low end. Despite the bass, however, it appears a bit more mid-centric overall. Its treble is less prominent and more forgiving, and its midrange – thicker and more attention-grabbing. The leaner ER4S can at times sound a touch clearer and has a small advantage in overall balance, while the Music One oftentimes sounds more natural thanks to its thicker, fuller sound.

ClearTuneMonitors CT-200 ($350) 

The ClearTuneMonitors CT-200 is a dual-driver acrylic custom priced higher than the Custom Art Music One. It is a neutral-sounding earphone that rolls off gently at either end of the frequency spectrum. Compared to the CT-200, the Music One has an advantage in bass depth and impact. Its low end is more extended and powerful, and grants the earphone a warmer overall tone. The CT-200 is brighter overall, presenting more forward upper mids in comparison. It also sounds a touch clearer and its treble is more crisp, appearing a little more detailed as a result. In terms of presentation, the CT-200 is more spacious and open-sounding while the Music One tends to be slightly more intimate. Nonetheless, the Music One again sounds very natural in this comparison – arguably more so than the CT-200 thanks to its warmer, thicker sound.

Alclair Reference ($399) 

The triple-driver, acrylic-shelled Alclair Reference is an accurate-sounding earphone that offers good presence across the entire frequency spectrum. It has similar bass depth and impact to the Custom Art Music One but tends to be a little tighter and more detailed. As with the VSonic GR07, its midrange is more recessed compared to the Music One, which has rather prominent mids. The Reference is still clearer, however, and seems more resolving as well. In general, the Alclair monitor sounds better up to the upper midrange, where it starts to display some stridency. Its treble is more prominent overall and tends to be peakier and more sibilant. The Music One, on the other hand, is smooth and far more forgiving, and sounds more natural overall in the treble region. Finally, the Reference is overall more spacious and images a little better than the Music One.

Value (10/10) – The Custom Art Music One is an excellent value, combining the noise isolation of custom-fit silicone shells with a single balanced armature driver delivering an organic, coherent sound. The ultra-light low-profile silicone shells of the Music One put its fit and comfort above not only universal monitors, but other customs as well. Lastly, in addition to great attention to detail spanning everything from the cable to the accessory pack, the Music One offers more customization options compared to other silicone CIEMs, making it an even tougher earphone to fault on any front.

Pros: Great isolation & comfort; fantastic cable; great audio performance
Cons: Low-profile shells can be tough to remove from ears

About ljokerl

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

18 comments

  1. Will the Music Two be coming your way?

  2. Hi joker,

    I am considering the Custom Art Music One there are no audiologists near where I live for me to get ear impressions and I have never owned a pair of CIEMs so I am not sure if it is worth the trouble over getting a pair of universal IEMs. The universal IEMs that I am considering are the UE triplefi 10 and the Etymotic ER 4S mainly because I have read a lot of comments recommending these for hard rock and alternative metal music. I would really appreciate your thoughts on the matter. Thank you!

    • Entry-level customs would really be worth the trouble if you put great value on the isolation and build quality, or if you have trouble finding a comfortable fit with universals. In terms of sound I don’t think either the ER4S or the Custom One is better than the other. The TF10 has a different sound character – it’s not as neutral and tends to emphsize bass more than the Custom Art and Etymotics. I prefer the more neutral Etys and Custom Art to the TF10 but it really depends on your sound preferences.

      • Which of the two would be a better performer for metal or hard rock in your opinion. I have a pair of Phonak 022 with the grey filters in and I love those. And I have a pair of Etymotic MC2s and I find the treble on those to be a little fatiguing. Does that lean me toward the Etys or Custom Art Music One in terms of sound signature?

          • Hi Joker,

            After some digging around I have actually decided on the Custom Art Music Two. But there is the option of getting it with detachable cables for an extra 10 dollars or so. What kind of a difference or advantage does this give me? Is it mainly for easier servicing and repairs?

            Thanks!

          • The advantage is that if you mess up the cable you can just replace the cable. I don’t know how Custom Art implements their detachable cables so it’s hard to say what the downsides might be. I love how low profile the cable entrance point is on my Music One, which may not be the case if there’s connector there for a detachable cable, but it’s hard to say with any certainty.

  3. Hi Joker

    I had posted this on Average Joe’s Alclair Reference review but would greatly appreciate your feedback also.

    I am not a musician and listen to almost every genre outside of rap, one day it can be Incubus, then Tool, then Gojira, then Third Eye Blind, I’m all over the place. I wouldn’t call myself a bass head but I like deep, controlled bass with some impact. Sound stage and clarity is something I miss from my HE-400 headphones, though they are too large to take outside the home (which I dont have a lot of time to sit and listen to them anymore).

    I currently have a pair of GR07 BEs, Klipsch S4i, and HiFiman HE-400 Headphones. It seems that I have “picky” shaped ears and have a hard time finding a fit. Thus the reason I am leaning towards CIEMs (headphones would be great if they werent bulky). My HiFiman HE-400 are almost the perfect sound signature to me except for the treble issues (I do not know if I would describe it as too bright or sparkly, it just has an annoying “hot” sound to it that ruins some cymbals for me) and it lacks bass impact and speed, though I love how deep the base is and for the quantity it does have it is of a high quality. The clarity and sound stage are to my standards.

    The GR07 BEs sound mid recessed to me. The bass is good, I would not enjoy any more bass than these give, though I would like for it to extend further down and not go so much into the mids. Sibilance is an issue at the high end on some of my tracks. I want more sound stage from them also.

    The S4i’s bass is not controlled enough and comes off as bloated.

    Knowing these things I have narrowed myself down to the Customart Music Twos (supposed to have more bass impact than the 1s), Alclair Reference, and 1964 V3. I cannot find any extensive reviews on the Music Twos to see how the bass has improved. The clarity and sound stage on the Alclair References sounds wonderful, but is the bass enough for me? Thank you again for your time! I hope this was all explained clearly.

    • Not having heard it (obviously), the Music Two still seems the most promising to me in terms of what you’re after. The Reference, to my ears, does have some of that same “hot”/sibilant treble character that the VSonics have. It’s not as bad as with the GR07 but since you specifically mentioned that it is something you want to avoid, I would not recommend the Alclair. The 1964-V3 has a ton of bass in comparison to these – more than with the GR07 BE – so I think it will have too much low end for you.

      Hope this helps!

      • Thats exactly what I was looking for, thanks!

      • I went ahead and ordered the Music Twos. I’ll be sure to post some impressions on Head-Fi once I receive them. I didnt see anything mentioned about an amp in your review, is there a particular portable amp you would recommend with my iPhone 5C? Or would these be fine with my iPhone 5C?

        • They’re not super efficient but the last iPhone I tried (the 5) had a pretty good headphone output. I would think a good amp would not be worth the investment with the 5C, either, but you can see how you get on with them down the line.

  4. Hey |joker|, seriously considering these Music Ones. When you say the bass extends well, where would you say it starts rolling off? 30Hz?

    I’m also wondering about the treble. You say it’s not the most crisp, but is natural and smooth. Do cymbals still have that “tsss” sound instead of the “ssh” of some duller headphones? Does it have the bite necessary for aggressively distorted guitars?

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

    • It seems to begin rolling off at about 40Hz, audible down to about 30.

      The Music One pretty good with guitars but if you like a brighter sound it may not be the best option. It has less emphasis in that “presence” range for guitars than, say, and Etymotic ER4 or Philips Fidelio S2. I know what you mean about cymbals but it’s not either or, more of a continuum. The Music One is closer to what you call “shh” but definitely not in a way that impedes overall realism. It’s similar to the HiFiMan RE-400 in this regard.

      • Thanks for the reply! I gather that I wouldn’t be missing out on much in the bass department except on my albums with double bass (or organ music, of which I have none). My main stereo rig (NHT Super Stereo) rolls off at about the same place and I have no complaints. From your comments on the qualities of the bass (good impact and control), am I right to think that these would get my head bobbing on good rock groove?

        Regarding the “presence” emphasis, I do like a ballsy sound, but only if the recording calls for it. Do the Music Ones oblige when the recording really digs in?

        Of the common descriptors, I value “natural” and “clear” sound most which is why I was drawn to the Music One. Good dynamics in the treble and an ability to convey delicacy are more important to me than energy, but I definitely want energy when the music calls for it.

        TL:DR – I love the idea of the naturalness and musicality (which are my two most important criteria) of the Music Ones, but are they truly good all-rounders? Can they sparkle when the recording really sparkles, thump when the recording really thumps, and crunch when the recording really crunches? Will a scorching guitar solo still melt my face?

        Thanks again for all your help with this. CIEM reviews and expertise are so hard to find, and first-hand impressions of them are so valuable because of the non-returnable nature of the beast.

        • Yeah, I find the bass more than sufficient. Other than that it sounds like it might be just a touch less aggressive than what you’re looking for. The Music One really tends to soften things up just a little compared to something like an Ety ER4S. If you list the IEMs you’ve tried and have liked or didn’t like, I can maybe be more specific.

          • Thanks. The list of IEMs that I’ve owned is a little sparse because I tend to have fit issues with universals. I’ll list out what I’ve though of everything I’ve had long enough to form an impression and just flood you with information.

            I had the Klipsch Image X10 for a while, but I felt it was a bit dark and muddy. The cable noise was pretty bad, too especially since the cable would never cooperate with over-ear wear.

            I had the JVC HA-FXT90 for a while and really enjoyed the sound as far as I can remember. The driver flex really bothered me, and I found it near impossible to get a good seal. I do remember them being hard to wear for more than a few minutes at a time, though I can’t remember if it was due to the sometimes strident sound or the fit.

            I have the VSonic VSD1S, and the sound is pretty enjoyable when I get a good fit. When the seal is just right (rarely), the bass honestly feels a bit overdone, but nothing bothersome. The highs are nice (sometimes a little grainy, but usually just about right), and the only thing that stands out as bad is the occasional congestion of the sound. The thing that I can’t stand is having to switch L/R to put it over the ear.

            I am a bit of a Grado Fan, mostly for the astonishing clarity and airiness. The sharp highs are bearable, but I find I don’t wear my tape-modded SR-80is for more than an album at a time because my ears get tired, even at low volumes. The bass texture is really nice and with fully taped bowls, it extends pretty far down with good impact, too.

            I had some Sennheiser Amperiors, but never really fell in love with the sound. It was exciting and extended really well. I really enjoyed it, but I just stopped wearing them over time because there was no love.

            Now for my favorite headphone, despite its shortcomings: the Sony MDR-ZX700. The music is so damn pretty, even if I feel there’s a bit of a plasticy resonance. The bass doesn’t really extend far enough for my taste but is in good proportion to the whole sound. I have no issues with the treble amount as I could wear them all day, but the quality is a little lacking. It’s a bit rough and uneven. The only real reason I moved on from these was comfort and build quality issues. My ears are too big for the shallow cups and any pad mods ruined the beautiful sweetness of the sound. Also the cord made lots of noise at the place where it connected to the cup.

            My favorite sound system overall is my NHT SuperZeros + Super8 subwoofer. It’s smooth, open, clear, balanced, and textured from about 38Hz all the way to the top of my hearing range. It’s detailed and airy without being fatiguing in the least and the soundstage is a little bit shocking sometimes (like I can tell which direction a piano is angled or how a violinist moves the violin up and down as he plays different passages). I don’t expect that craziness from any IEMs, but I love it when I can close my eyes, point and say “the ukelele is right there.”

            Thanks again for all your help |joker|! Your contributions to personal audio are fantastic!

          • The X10 is definitely bassier and darker than the Music One, so no problem there.

            The FXT90 is one I rather like myself. It seemed there was a lot of variation with the driver flex. The treble on these was more peaky compared to the Music One – the Custom Art really is quite a lot smoother. It has less bass than the JVCs, too.

            The VSD1S is easiest to compare to since I use it all the time. The Music One has less bass (the VSD1S actually has more than even the GR07 Bass Edition), the mids are not as recessed, and it’s a little more laid-back in the upper midrange and lower treble region. All of the VSonic IEMs exhibit very strong presence there, which can make them sibilant at times. The Music One is not darker than the ZX700, though. The Music One is a little quicker and has better separation than the VSD1S.

            Sorry, no experience with NHT speakers. I use a pair of Emotivas at home and while I don’t think the Custom Art can (or should, really) compete, it definitely does well enough for when I’m the go.

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